Have you ever wondered if some of your research findings are purely coincidental? You know, when the people, places, and times seem to add up, but you still wonder if some findings are just a coincidence? I hope that the approach to these research findings will be a great help to others. Genealogical ideas and approaches garnered from others’ cases can often be quite enlightening and educational.
Last year for Juneteenth, I wrote Free, Alone with Young Children to Raise, which revealed how I discovered that a Wesley genetic group – descendants of William & Saline Wesley of Panola County, Texas – is closely tied to my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother, Polly Partee of Panola County, Mississippi. See Figure 1 below. For over two decades, I had not been able to find any significant, documental clues related to her origins and her family, other than her four children, Great-Grandma Sarah, Square, Judge, and Johnny Partee.
According to the censuses, Polly was born somewhere in North Carolina c. 1830. She was last enslaved on Squire Boone Partee’s plantation near Como, Mississippi, where she was the head cook during and after slavery. In that blog post, I explained how DNA amounts (cM) with William & Saline Wesley’s descendants indicate that one of them was Polly’s close family member, presumably a long-lost, full sibling, who ended up in a Texas county that ironically has the same name. However, in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, William’s birthplace was consistently reported as Tennessee, but Saline’s birthplace was inconsistent – Louisiana (1870) and Mississippi (1880).
In 1880, William & Saline Wesley lived adjacent to a white couple, J. D. & Mary Wallace. I theorized that they could probably be William and/or Saline’s last enslavers because Mary’s migration pattern seemed to match Saline’s – Mississippi to Louisiana to Texas. Finding African American families still residing in 1880 near the farm or plantation where they had been enslaved was not uncommon. Marriage records show that Mary’s first husband was Brook Wells; she had married him in 1854 in neighboring Caddo Parish, Louisiana. I’m glad that I had investigated their neighbors. You will see why. Utilizing the FAN Club (or cluster research) methodology is certainly coming into play here.
I studied the other shared DNA matches between my family (four great-grandchildren of Polly) and the Wesley descendants. I noticed that there were at least five DNA cousins who had an Austin from Haywood County, Tennessee in their family trees. One of them, Austin Cousin 5 in the diagram below, even shares 73 cM over 4 segments with my mother’s first cousin. That’s a significant amount of DNA. According to AncestryDNA, the relationship possibilities range from a second cousin once removed to a fourth cousin. These five Austin cousins descend from two different John Austins whose parents were born in North Carolina. They lived close to each other in Haywood County and were somehow related to each other, as well as to Grandma Polly, somehow.
I observed that these Austin families lived in the Dancyville area of Haywood County, which sits on the Fayette-Haywood County line. A strategy I employed was to look for their last enslaver, and hope that it may provide more clues about Polly’s origins. By now, another theory had entered into my mind – perhaps their last enslaver was Polly’s previous enslaver who sold her to Squire B. Partee. Genealogy definitely entails asking yourself questions based on research findings and then searching for the answers.
Census records, slave schedules, and white Alston family trees on Ancestry.com provided a great possibility – a man named Alfred Alston of nearby Fayette County, Tennessee. I had ascertained that Austin could also be spelled “Alston.” Alfred was born in 1795 in North Carolina, and he and his family were in Wake County, North Carolina prior to their migration to Fayette County during the late 1830s with their enslaved people. They were the only Alstons in Fayette County.
Another major clue leaped off the page when I found Alfred Alston in the 1850 Fayette County census. A man named Richard Halliburton lived adjacent to them, and I soon unearthed that Richard’s wife was Christiana Alston, a daughter of Alfred & Nancy Alston. Marriage records show that Richard and Christiana married in Wake County, North Carolina in 1835. Why was Halliburton a great find? Once again, cluster genealogy revealed great clues.
Well, I had seen the name “Richard Halliburton” before. Online family trees indicate that he & Christiana had moved to Caddo Parish, Louisiana by 1855, and they were in neighboring Panola County, Texas by 1860. He is the same Richard Halliburton who lived adjacent to Brook & Mary Wells in 1860. Remember, Brook’s remarried wife, Mary Simmons Wells Wallace, was William & Saline Wesley’s next-door neighbor in 1880, and I had theorized that she and Brook could have been William and/or Saline’s last enslavers. The 1860 Panola County, Texas slave schedule shows that Richard Halliburton and his neighbor Brook were both the owners of enslaved people.
Now, my theory was corrected and strengthened. Since Tennessee was William Wesley’s reported birthplace, perhaps he (not Saline) was Polly’s close family member, presumably a sibling, and was last enslaved by Richard & Christiana Halliburton, the daughter of Alfred Alston who owned enslaved people who were also closely and genetically tied to Polly and William Wesley. Even William’s great great granddaughter, Wesley Cousin 3 in Figure 1, shares 36 cM over 2 segments with Austin Cousin 4 in Figure 3. And perhaps, Saline and her children were indeed last enslaved by Brook & Mary Wells? Richard & Christiana and her father Alfred all died after slavery ended, so their court and probate records would not verify slave ownership. No verifying sources have been located to date.
There’s more! While studying the shared DNA matches, I found another genetic group in the mix who was related to not only Grandma Polly Partee, but also to descendants of William Wesley and the Austins of Haywood County, Tennessee. Several DNA cousins with the surnames Tharpe and/or Teague from Henry County, Tennessee in their family trees were appearing in the mix, too.
So many black Tharpes and Teagues resided in the Henry County censuses, that I almost got a headache. Apparently, many of the enslaved of Col. William Allen Tharpe, Sr. had retained the Tharpe surname once freed. Residing near Paris, Tennessee, he was the largest slave-owner in Henry County, with 94 enslaved people in 1860. I soon discovered that Col. Tharpe had moved to Tennessee in the 1830s from Wake County, North Carolina.
After researching the family trees of at least seven of these Teague/Tharpe DNA cousins, I finally found the common ancestors to six of them – a couple named Hillman “Hill” & Matilda Tharpe. See Figure 6 below. Tharpe Cousin 7 descends from Soloman Tharpe whose wife was from Kentucky. This Tharpe genetic connection was eye-opening. They were all born in North Carolina c. 1815-1820, and they appear to be among the 60+ enslaved people Col. Tharpe had brought to Tennessee in the 1830s. To add, I discovered that Col. Tharpe’s wife’s full name before marriage was Sarah Alston Cooper, with Cooper being her maiden name. Grandma Polly Partee’s DNA trail was certainly going back to Wake County.
Grandma Polly may have been previously enslaved by Alfred & Nancy Alston, and she also had family who were enslaved by Col. William A. Tharpe. Both Alston and Tharpe were from Wake County, North Carolina. This can’t be coincidental. I then took a deep dive into Wake County court, property, and deed records on FamilySearch.org to see what I can find. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any slave transactions or bills of sale to date, but I found something else that blew me away!
A February 1830 deed shows that Alfred Alston sold a 120-acre tract of his land to his neighbor. That neighbor was Col. William A. Tharpe! Their properties adjoined each other. Additionally, another deed dated October 1827, shows that Col. Tharpe’s father-in-law Blount Cooper sold him 750 acres of land that adjoined Alfred Alston’s property. This deed indicates that the Tharpe and Alston properties were located on/near the Neuse River in the northwest section of Wake County called Oak Grove. Per the 1830 Wake County census, Col. Tharpe owned 62 enslaved people that year, and Alfred Alston owned 20.
The Oak Grove township of Wake County became part of Durham County when that county was formed in 1881, from Orange and Wake Counties. Old maps show that Alston and Tharpe’s land are now in the Raleigh-Durham metro area located on Falls Lake, a manmade reservoir that was constructed by 1981, when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers dammed the Neuse River. So, the next time I travel to Durham and go out to Falls Lake, I will now know that I am in the vicinity of Grandma Polly’s likely origins, something I had been seeking for over two decades. These recent research findings aren’t coincidental. My family has other DNA matches (over 20 cM) whose immediate roots are from Wake and neighboring Granville County.
We will definitely have many challenges unearthing more information about many of our enslaved ancestors who were inhumanely regarded as chattel property and were scattered all over the deep South during the “Second Middle Passage.” But we have their DNA. Patiently studying some of our DNA matches’ family trees – which we often have to take back further to find the connection or clues if we can – and connecting the dots with genealogy research will often put us down the right road to discovery. Just don’t give up.